The Beat Goes On: 'La Havana Madrid' is reborn by Teatro Vista and Collaboraction
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Come be taken away by the soulful sounds of forgotten history, a bright, persistent community, and a nightclub that served as a touchstone for Latinx immigrants coming to Chicago. This is the world of La Havana Madrid, a show that from its introduction stresses itself as a place of sanctuary, love, and for anyone who needs it: home. Teatro Vista and Collaboraction mount this production once more after its successful runs at Steppenwolf, the Goodman, and now The Den Theatre.
Upon its warranted return, the show has incorporated a lot of successful additions. For a show this grand, it features an exhilarating set (Jose Manuel Diaz) that flurries with projections (Liviu Pasare) of newspaper headlines, Chicago streets and signs of yesteryear, and the nightclub scene. Impressive choreography (Wilfredo Rivera) is implemented and new cast members intersect with returning favorites. The text remains in the hands of titular star, Sandra Delgado, taking its cue from Tony Quintana's De Naguabo a Chicago: The Tony Quintana Story, which phrases are borrowed from. Its direction remains at the helm by Cheryl Lynn Bruce and with the astounding musical stylings of Band Carpacho Y Su Super Combo.
There's a well measured mix of new and old in the production team that mirrors this marriage in the plot of La Havana Madrid. Spanning two acts that constitutes of two hours and fifteen minutes with intermission, audiences are welcomed on a journey that begins in 1960 and ends in 1972, where many Latinx people were forced to move to Chicago for a chance at a better life. It can be easy to romanticize the past, but the only thing dreamy about this show is the temporary musical interludes that allow this ensemble a reprieve from racism, violence, and family separations. Sound familiar?
Every character feels like a snapshot of a specific, enriching experience. As each is introduced, their story feels lifted and unfolded like dusting off a Polariod from an old photograph album. Bright-eyed, young Maria (Ayssette Muñoz) immigrates through the Peter Pan program jumping from one foster home to the next. Charming Henry (Tommy Rivera-Vega) and musically inclined Maruja (Alix Rhode)'s quintessential love story (sweetly based on Delgado's parents) brings a twist of getting married in two different countries at the same time. Carlos (Victor Musoni) reveals what it's like to bear double discrimination as a Black, Puerto Rican with two different kinds of insults and crosses to bear set against the backdrop of continental social clubs like the Young Lords of Lincoln Park.
Act II flashes forward to 1966 with the rise of salsa playing an indicative role. Radio host Tony (Mike Oquendo), who plays host to us throughout the evening, recounts being drafted in the army, with harrowing signs in the background of, "Whites only. No Spanish Mexicans." Determined, Puerto Rican, pageant queen, Myrna (Ilse Zacharias), takes us into the travesty of a boy shot in Humboldt Park who police claim was armed (he wasn't), and the retaliation of the Division Street riots. Bass player Carpacho's (Marvin Quijada) world opens to the different kinds of salsa, a new job market due to Vietnam, and living constantly on the run with no work papers.
Stories fan in and out with each chapter more thrilling than the next. There's an inherent build that's bookended by monologues from Delgado's La Havana Madrid. She serves as a catch all figure filling in many roles, mainly the instigator of music as needed. Her entrance immediately garners applause and her somber, soft voice isn't overpowering, but like tidal waves restlessly lapping along the shore. She provides a contrast to Maruja's crackling voice which carries and opens up the room inviting even the last rows in. There's a full out dance break in the second act that's long overdue with the ensemble almost having to hold back to partake in this communal, jovial jubilee.
La Havana Madrid is nothing short of wonderful. It provides a lens into reexamining our neighborhoods and living in this sweep of gentrification. There's no denying its strength and why it's seen many productions, but there still seems room for growth. Bring on more dancing and songs by the ensemble that aren't just from LHM. While The Den Theatre has become a bright spot for hosting successful musically acclaimed works, it doesn't quite fit here. Only VIP patrons seated in the cabaret style chairs and tables on the ground level get the closest feel for the action. Dancing in the aisles is cramped and makes its patrons forced to be on display instead of encouraged to participate. And to call this overall experience immersive is false. The moments of interaction with the audience I could sadly count on one hand.
The nightclub La Havana Madrid which was originally located at Belmont and Sheffield Avenue could bring a greater impact with its next location. To reclaim Lincoln Park has been done before, and while this show plays to the general public well it should be brought to areas like Humboldt Park or Pilsen. It then could reach residents its speaking for today without making them trek to Wicker Park or Lincoln Park, prime areas that pushed out Latinx populations. Delgado's closing monologue recounts from then to now who Chicago has belonged to, so why not acknowledge that change in the communities most affected by this shift? If La Havana Madrid lives on (which is likely), it should take its parting words to heart: "Honor it. Learn from it. Pass it on."